Today is national Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awareness day. The US government estimates that roughly eight percent of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetime. It’s important to understand that a much higher percentage of people survive and witness traumatic events. Historically we have associated PTSD with war veterans and survivors of sexual assault. Today we understand people survive trauma in countless forms (child abuse, natural disasters, domestic violence and more0.
The nature of PTSD as a mental health condition involves reliving and re-experiencing those events. This occurs through vivid nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks (reliving the event while awake), and intrusive thoughts or imagery. People who live with PTSD tend to be hypervigilant (acutely aware of their environment), are often anxious (though many of us hide it well), dissociative (mentally checking out), and tend to struggle with both episodic and ongoing levels of depression. We tend to struggle with memory impairment and cognitive processing of new information.
Folks who live with PTSD are at far greater risk for misusing substances, developing a substance use disorder, self-harm, and suicide than the general population. We tend to struggle with trust and often find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships and boundaries. Many of us are prone to socially isolating and it’s common that we find large crowds of people intolerable to be around.
PTSD has only been established as a psychiatric condition since 1980. In the grand scheme of mental health, we have a long way to go in understanding it’s causes (lots), why some folks seem to be more resilient to traumatic experiences, and how to effectively treat this condition. This is largely because trauma is very uniquely experienced by every individual, therefore, what works for one person’s recovery process may not work well for another.
There are things however that always work. If you have friends or family who struggle with this condition, please know that empathy, patience, and understanding are always beneficial. If you’re someone struggling with the effects of past trauma, please reach out. As a survivor of trauma, I know how much we want to leave the past in the past…but it’s not over as long as it hurts or limits us in the present.
It’s tough to find truly capable mental health services for overcoming PTSD. I recommend interviewing any professional support you seek. It’s fine to ask about our training and experience, but the real deal breaker in my experience is to ask point blank whether the professional has the courage and fortitude to address and effectively help you find your way out of that darkness and into the light.
Your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has strong options and free support available.